Using Incentives to Drive Healthcare Shopping Behaviors

Incentives are a hot topic in healthcare and so we commissioned a study to take a look into how incentives can impact healthcare shopping behavior. Earlier this week, we hosted a webinar with M Health’s John Surie to review the findings. He provided valuable information that could influence how incentives programs are rolled out by health plans, employers and health systems.

First of all, incentives work.
Even when trying to influence provider choice, the category with the lowest impact from incentives, 64% of respondents in M Health’s survey said they would be influenced by incentives when selecting a provider – for an incentive as low as $25.

And they can result in staying power of behavior change
Almost half of participants answered “yes” when asked if they ever participated in a healthcare program after a limited-time incentive ended.

BUT, incentives do not impact all healthcare services the same way
There is a much higher likelihood of incentives influencing behavior change when it comes to labs/imaging centers as they can be viewed more as a commodity and having less of a personal connection than choosing a provider. In fact, respondents were nearly 20% more likely to have an incentive impact their choice of laboratory or imaging center than they were for choosing a provider.

More money does not necessarily mean bigger impact.
Higher cash incentives have minimal impact in influencing consumer choice.

  • 81% of those surveyed reported they would definitely choose a laboratory based on a $25 cash incentive. A $100 incentive only saw a 5% increase in those individuals.
  • For imaging centers, 79% reported a $25 incentive would sway them vs. 85% for a $100 incentive – only 6% more people when the incentive amount increases significantly.

Except in the case of hospitals and surgery centers:
Increasing incentive amounts had the strongest impact on choice of a surgical center, with hospitals sharing similar results:

  • 65% of respondents said they would probably or definitely be steered towards a specific surgical center for a $250 cash incentive.
  • The percentage of people rose to 74% for a $500 incentive.

Interested in testing incentives?
Incentives can be particularly powerful at raising awareness, getting people to try new services, and disseminating educational content.

The impact of incentives on getting members to watch educational videos
Over half the survey participants reported watching a medical video in the past two years.

  • 68% of them said an incentive, in the form of a lower insurance premium, cash, or gift card would encourage them to watch an educational video related to their own or a family member’s condition.
  • Only 29% said they would definitely watch the video without and incentive.


  • Regarding screening tests recommended to an individual by their health plan, 35% of respondents said they would definitely get the test without an incentive.
  • When an incentive is added, that rate jumps to 56% that would definitely get the test.

Telehealth services represent huge potential savings for employers and health plans; while a regular in-office visit costs about $150, an average telehealth visit costs only $40, a savings of approximately 75%.

  • When asked about telehealth, incentives tripled the percentage of consumers saying they would definitely choose a telehealth visit vs. simply being invited to consider the telehealth alternative. In other words, messaging plus an incentive tripled the response vs. messaging alone.